University of Wyoming’s Afghanistan Mission, 1953 to 1973

The current troubling events in Afghanistan brings to mind the bond that the University of Wyoming once enjoyed with that country.

Under George “Duke” Humphrey, who was UW’s president from 1945 to 1964, the university began developing international programs to aid in the academic and scholarly expansion of UW. One of the first programs to provide international student and faculty exchanges involved the U.S. State Department’s Agency in International Development (USAID) and the Royal Government of Afghanistan. At that time Afghanistan was a monarchy ruled by King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

During the 1950s and 60s, Afghanistan’s government was quite outwardly facing, making strides toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle. In fact, at Zahir Shah’s behest a new constitution was introduced in 1964 which made Afghanistan a modern democratic state by introducing free elections, a parliament, civil rights, women’s rights, and universal suffrage. His wife, Queen Humaria Begum in 1946 created the Women’s Welfare Association, which was the first-ever women’s institute in Afghanistan. Afghan women were able to wear pencil skirts if they liked, attend school with no problems, and mix freely with men. They did not require a male guardian to travel.

Afghan women browsing in a record store, ca. 1955. Image from a photobook published by the Afghan planning ministry in the 1950s and republished by Mohammed Qayoumi in a photo essay that appeared in 2010 in Foreign Policy magazine. Qayoumi grew up in Kabal in the 1950s and 60s.
Afghan women in a biology class at Kabul University, ca. 1955. Attribution above.

USAID chose the University of Wyoming to consult in Afghanistan in part because of the physical similarities of the two places—high, dry, mountainous, and never easy to farm.

The agreement initiating UW’s involvement in Afghanistan was signed in 1953, the program was underway by 1956, and the first nine Afghan students—the original class—graduated from Kabul University in 1959 with B.S. degrees in agriculture. The program included exchanges as well; male Afghan agriculture students studied on the Laramie campus during these years.

Page 215 of the University of Wyoming’s 1956 WYO Yearbook.

More than 30 UW professors eventually spent varying amounts of time in Afghanistan. It wasn’t always easy. There were conflicts, UW historian Deborah Hardy notes, over personnel and staffing, there were housing and communications difficulties, and the underlying mission of the program was often unclear. “Politics, too, intervened,” she writes in her history of UW, without elaborating further. “Few complained,” she notes, “although conditions were far from ideal.” The UW program “surged and wobbled,” Hardy reports, and finally was phased out in 1973.

A high point came in September 1963, when President Humphrey and a cohort of Afghan exchange students welcomed Queen Humaira and King Zahir Shah to Laramie. Here are photographic highlights from that visit. Additional images from the visit can be found at the American Heritage Center.

Photo is captioned: “During the welcoming ceremonies King Zahir shook hands with Mr. G. W. Arnold, director of the Afghanistan program at the University of Wyoming. In the center of the picture is the smiling face of His Majesty King Zahir, Mrs. Hilston, Mrs. G. W. Arnold, and Arnold.
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “His Majesty (center) reached for a sample of wool as the royal tour paused briefly by the sheep pens on the University of Wyoming livestock farm.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “King Zahir (fifth from left) exhibited keen interest in dairying as he examined one of the top University of Wyoming milk cows. On the King’s right and facing the camera is [College of Agriculture] Dean Hilston.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo caption: “Queen [Humaira] (R) asked that her picture be taken with Miss Tierney who helped serve the tea at the Lembcke ranch home.
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “King Zahir (center with glasses) visited intimately with some Afghan subjects who are students in the United States, mainly at the University of Wyoming.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “President Humphrey conferred upon the King of Afghanistan, the University’s highest tribute, the honorary Doctor of Laws degree. The King dressed in full academic regalia graciously received the printed citation.” Standing left to right are President Humphrey, College of Engineering Dean H. T. Person, King Zahir Shah, and Professor of Geology Samuel H. Knight
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “Assembled luncheon guests listened attentively to the royal message from the
King of Afghanistan.”
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “President Humphrey presented Queen [Humaira] with a bouquet of roses as the Queen prepared to leave Cheyenne aboard the U.S. Air Force jet transport.
Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Photo is captioned: “Afghan nationals, students enrolled in the U.S. universities, wave good-bye to their King at the Cheyenne airport as he starts on the next leg of his tour that will take him to San Francisco.” Photo File: Afghanistan, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan, was deposed in a bloodless coup in 1973, which may explain why the UW-Afghan partnership ended at that time. He had reigned since 1933, making him longest serving ruler of the country since the 18th century. In late December 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, beginning decades of conflict that continue today.

The American Heritage Center houses a number of collections pertaining to UW’s Afghanistan mission. They include the papers of F. Paul Baxter, Robert D. Burman, Dale and Muriel Fritz, Gerald A. Nielsen, Wilhelm G. Solheim, Grace Willard, and the University of Wyoming President’s Office records.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener. Thanks to Tom Rea and Rebecca Hein of WyoHistory for text included in this post.

#alwaysarchiving

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Agricultural history, Agriculture, Political history, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply